We’re half convinced that coffee was invented to make mornings manageable for parents. Getting kids dressed, convincing them (for the hundredth time) that brushing their teeth is a good idea, packing lunches—there are quite a few balls to juggle, especially for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.
In fact, more than 50% children with autism spectrum disorder experience at least one chronic sleep problem, which can lead to morning tantrums and difficulties. At MeBe, we believe that your AM shouldn’t feel like a tightrope walk. We’ve gathered our favorite strategies for making mornings easier, so you can enjoy that time with your child and start your day on the right foot.
Be a Soldier
You might be surprised by how many families don’t have a consistent AM schedule. Maybe they do bath time every other morning or they’re consistent about wake-up times during the week but all over the place on the weekend. Whatever the cause, this kind of inconsistency can make it difficult for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities to know what is expected of them, and they may act out due to anxiety and stress.
Be like a soldier: create a set morning routine that doesn’t deviate. For example, wake up at the same time every day, go right into getting dressed, then follow that up with breakfast, brushing teeth, and getting their backpack ready (on weekends, you can replace this with getting their day bag ready or starting an activity). Top off the routine with a reward like iPad or play time so your kiddo has something fun to look forward to.
Be sure to share this schedule with your child so they know what to expect. Write it out or create a visual schedule if they communicate best with images. If you’re feeling ambitious, make it interactive! Let your child check off each item as they’re completed or teach them to move plush toys representing each chore from the “to-do” bucket to the “finished” bucket.
Expert Tip: Learn about front loading your schedule to help transition your child from one activity to the next. Goodbye, morning meltdowns.
Do the same tasks keep causing delays or tantrums morning after morning? Try moving them to the night before so these to-dos don’t sabotage your morning. A few ideas:
- Bath or shower time
- Setting out clothes and shoes
- Packing backpacks or day bags
- Making lunch
Alternatively, let your kiddo dictate the order of events to feel more in control. They might be more willing to along with their routine if the whole thing doesn’t feel like one big parent demand.
If your child has a bad case of feet dragging, timers can help move them between tasks much more quickly. For instance, set a ten-minute timer on your smartphone during breakfast and explain that once the timer goes off, breakfast time is done.
They’ll soon learn that if they want to finish those waffles, they’ll have to stop playing with the syrup and beat the buzzer. You can also implement one-minute warning timers to give your child an extra heads up that the next task is coming.
Just keep in mind that “beat the buzzer” shouldn’t feel like a chore. A lot of kids love to race against the clock! Make it a game for the best results.
Mornings can be fun and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. If your child enjoys music or videos, integrate them into your routine to make chores like brushing teeth that much more engaging.
Bump Up the Music
Traditional timers not really your thing? Fun music can accomplish the same goal, especially if your child is sensitive to certain noises. If you’d like them to brush their teeth for three minutes, choose their favorite three-minute song to play in the background. Dance around together while cleaning those pearly whites and then use the song’s end to cue your transition into the next task.
Keep Them Occupied
Idle hands… well, any parent can tell you that they tend to make trouble. If your child finishes the morning routine early or has some downtime in the middle, keep them occupied with their favorite positive activity such as reading, watching videos, drawing, or playing with toys or musical instruments. They’ll consider it a reward for good behavior, you’ll consider it a little “you time.”
Let Them Take Control
Older children or ones that have their morning routines memorized may not need as much oversight. Feel free to extend more self-monitoring as they become more responsible and positively reinforce staying on schedule.
The more you encourage the right behaviors, the easier your AM will be. Who knows? Those stressful, hectic mornings may soon become a thing of your past.
If you need some help establishing positive habits, our experienced team of Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are here to help. Contact us today.